- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The House Ethics Committee has found Rep. Laura Richardson guilty of violating rules that prohibit pressuring her staff to perform campaign work and personal errands and is recommending that the House issue a reprimand and fine her $10,000.

The panel also found that Ms. Richardson, a Democrat from California, obstructed the Ethics panel’s investigation by altering or destroying evidence and a deliberately failed to respond to a subpoena for documents. The committee also said she attempted to influence the testimony of witnesses.

Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner, a Republican from Alabama, and ranking member Linda Sanchez, a Democrat from California, announced the decision in a joint statement Wednesday, noting that the investigative subcommittee unanimously concluded that there was “substantial reason to believe” Ms. Richardson violated federal law as well as several House rules.

Mr. Bonner and Ms. Sanchez said Ms. Richardson “improperly” compelled her official staff to perform campaign work and obstructed the committee’s investigation by altering or destroying evidence, deliberately failing to produce documents in response to a subpoena and attempting to influence the testimony of witnesses.

Earlier this year, Politico reported that Ms. Richardson had pressured House aides to work on California political redistricting issues last year. The work reportedly included collecting information about communities outside her district, organizing a workshop to train constituents in advance of a public meeting of California’s redistricting commission and writing talking points for those constituents to deliver during the public-comments portion of the meeting.

Despite the redistricting work, Ms. Richardson failed to keep her Long Beach-based district intact and faces Rep. Janice Hahn, also a Democrat, in November for an uphill battle for control of the new district that includes South Gate, Lynwood, Carson and San Pedro.

The two Democrats were the only candidates in the June primary, and California’s new top-two primary system allows members of the same party to face on another in the runoff, if they are the top two vote-getters. Ms. Hahn received 59.8 percent of the vote and Ms. Richardson received 40.2 percent.

Ms. Richardson has agreed to admit to seven counts of House rules violations and waive her right to a public ethics trial on the charges, the committee said. The adoption by the full House of the investigative committee’s report on the matter will serve as Ms. Richardson’s reprimand, and she will be forced to pay a $10,000 fine no later than Dec. 1.

In addition, the Ethics Committee strongly discouraged Ms. Richardson from permitting any of her official staff to perform work on her campaign — either on a paid or volunteer basis — and recommended that any staffers who do work on her campaign be required to sign a waiver asserting that such work will be provided voluntarily and is not being compelled by Ms. Richardson.

Ms. Richardson has faced a series of ethics charges for the past several years. In 2010, the Ethics Committee cleared her of any wrongdoing after investigating whether she received an improper gift in the refinancing of a house and failed to properly disclose details about her property, income and liabilities.

At the time, the ethics panel blamed her mortgage broker, Charles Thomas, for committing fraud by claiming rental income for the congresswoman’s Sacramento home in order to help her get a mortgage. But the committee said the fraud was committed with Ms. Richardson’s knowledge and referred its findings about Mr. Thomas to the Justice Department.